If your goal is to get healthy this year, you don’t need to join an expensive gym or start a fad diet. As underwhelming as it sounds, one of the best things you can do for your health is to simply go for a walk. Although walking is the most popular fitness activity, many health experts believe it’s vastly underrated. Compared to other forms of exercise, walking is a super movement for starting and sustaining fitness goals. Here are just four of the many benefits of walking that prove this point.
Walking as a Super Movement: 4 Benefits of Walking
1. It helps you burn calories
All forms of exercise, by definition, burn calories. However, not everyone realizes the crucial role that a daily walk can play in losing weight.
There are two main factors that influence your energy expenditure while walking: how far you go and how much you weigh. Simply put, the further you walk, the more you’ll burn, and the more you weigh, the harder your body will have to work.
In estimating calories burned, a general rule of thumb is that for every mile walked, a 120-pound person will burn 65 calories while someone who weighs 180lbs will burn about 100 calories. You can use a calorie calculator for more specific, and accurate, estimates.
How to capitalize on this benefit
Everyone likes to maximize rewards, whether it’s a travel credit card or a cartful of coupons. You can maximize the calorie-burning benefits of walking in a few ways.
Include interval training
First, consider interspersing your walk with bursts of high-intensity power-walking. For instance, you could set a timer every few minutes to power-walk for 30 seconds. Just like a runner doing sprints, these bouts of vigorous activity will raise your heart rate, increasing blood flow and accelerating the amount of calories burned.
Vary your speed
You can achieve a similar effect by simply varying your walking speed. Similar to the gas mileage on a car, the body needs less energy to sustain a constant speed, while adjustments in speed require more energy. So if you use a treadmill, make sure you adjust your speed throughout your workout, and don’t just zone out for 30 minutes.
You can add resistance and maximize your calorie burn by including some hills in your route. Walking with Nordic sticks will get your arms involved, automatically increasing your energy expenditure. You can also hold hand weights as you walk for a boost in caloric burn similar to what you would experience if you were heavier yourself.
2. It helps you stay strong
Walking can make your whole body stronger, starting with your bones. Even though high-impact activity is generally frowned upon for its effect on joint health, the body needs some stress in order to stay strong. The impact your bones receive with every footfall of your walk spurs the production of bone mass, which naturally tapers off with age. By walking regularly, you can help preserve and even improve your bone density.
For example, participants in one study who walked 1 mile every day demonstrated higher bone density than those who walked less. And these participants were postmenopausal women, who are at the highest risk of bone loss.
Besides your bone health, walking builds muscle strength and endurance. Your quads, glutes, calves, abs, back, and hip flexors all pitch in to help you put one foot in front of the other without falling over. Because these muscles are all involved, they all stand to benefit from the increase in muscle mass and resilience that walking brings.
The cardiovascular system boasts some of the hardest working organs in your body—your heart and lungs. Even these powerhouses can benefit from a daily stroll. Studies show that walking can help lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart disease by 25%.
Walking is considered the first step to better cardiovascular health, but not the end goal, so you shouldn’t stop there. If you really want to strengthen your heart and lungs, consider doing more vigorous aerobic activity.
How to maximize this benefit:
Generally, repetition builds strength, so you’ll only get stronger by walking further and more frequently. But you can also strengthen your bones, muscles, and cardiovascular health in a few other ways.
Give your walk an extra jolt
Bones respond well to high impact, so consider adding to your walk a moderate number of jumps or leaps. Besides the obvious example of jumping rope, you could practice long-jumps over sidewalk seams and other unobtrusive landmarks. Or, simply walk to a stairwell and jog up and down the stairs a couple times to wake up your bones.
Pair with resistance exercise
The benefits of walking are always multiplied when paired with resistance, and doubly so when it comes to muscle strength and endurance. To incorporate resistance training into your walk, you could perform bodyweight exercises such as lunges and squats every five minutes. Or, follow every walk with a strength-training routine at home. Even in older adults, a combination of walking and resistance training led to a significant improvement in muscle quality.
Pick up the pace
Walking faster makes the heart work harder to meet the demands of the muscles in your legs. To maximize the benefits of walking on your cardiovascular health, walk at a pace that puts you at your target heart rate, or 65–75% of your maximum heart rate, which you can calculate here. Don’t have a heart monitor? Then simply walk at a speed where you can still talk but are too out of breath to sing.
3. It helps you stay young
People who walk longer live longer. And if you meet the daily recommendations for moderate exercise—150 minutes every week—then you may even reduce your mortality by 30%.
Walking is a fountain of youth for a couple reasons. Besides burning calories and strengthening the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, walking can improve brain health. Adults who walked regularly demonstrated faster cognitive processing speed, while patients with dementia exhibited less memory loss when they participated in moderate exercise.
Arthritis afflicts 1 in 4 American adults, and nearly half of them report that joint pain limits their daily life. But walking can help reverse the debilitating effects of arthritis and preserve mobility. For example, in one study, arthritic patients who walked for one hour every week for 4 years were more likely to avoid disability than those who didn’t walk as much.
How to maximize this benefit:
What benefits your heart and lungs will benefit your brain, and anything that makes your body stronger and more resilient can make it feel more youthful as well. Here’s one more way to capitalize on this benefit of walking on your wellbeing:
Although your brain benefits from a walk wherever you are, studies show that walking outside can provide an extra boost. The outdoors has been linked to a lower rate of all-cause mortality, separate from the additional benefits that come with exercise. Being outside in nature has also been linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety, higher rates of brain plasticity, boosts in creative thinking and increased mood overall.
4. It’s easy to do at just about any age
The benefits of exercise are too robust to overstate, but let’s face it: most of us aren’t getting enough of it. Exercise programs are often intimidating, gym memberships can get expensive, and the excuses to evade exercise run aplenty.
But that’s where walking comes in. You already know how to walk; you’ve been doing it since infancy. The barriers that other forms of exercise erect—such as requisite skills or equipment, fitness demands and risk of injury—are virtually non-existent in the pastime of walking.
Best of all, this free activity is universally available. It can be done anywhere, outdoors or in, by people of all ages and body types. As long as you have a pair of shoes and two working legs, you have all you need to get started on a workout routine that will reap lifelong rewards.
Ways to start a walking routine
In light of these 4 benefits of walking, there’s no reason why you can’t get started today. Below are a few ways to ensure your success.
First, set a goal. Choose a realistic number of steps, miles, or minutes to walk each week. Although the recommended number is 30 minutes per day, you could start with a 10-minute walk once in the morning and once in the evening. Alternatively, you could aim for 10,000 steps or some other milestone.
Next, make a plan that will help you meet and eventually exceed your goal. Put it in your calendar, set your alarm, or make an appointment with someone who’ll help you stick to your schedule (your dog just might!).
If your calendar is impossibly stuffed, you can still get your steps in otherwise—you’ll just have to get creative. For example, park at the far end of the lot each time you go to the store, or get off one bus stop early so you have to walk to compensate. You could habitually take the stairs instead of the elevator, or mount your desk onto a walking treadmill to stroll through your morning meetings.
Another way to ensure you’ll incorporate walking into your lifestyle is to make it fun. Play music, listen to a podcast or audiobook, or talk on the phone with a friend or relative as you walk. When your regular routes become monotonous, check out a nature preserve or trail for some visual variety. And there’s always the mall.
Don’t forget to challenge yourself with intervals, hills, resistance, or other exercise if you want to maximize the calorie burn and benefits of walking. For extra accountability, meet up with a walking buddy or join a fitness group that will push you towards higher levels of fitness.
Benefits of Walking: Summary
There are so many reasons to go for a walk. Whether it’s to enjoy the outdoors, lose some weight, or just amuse the dog, every step you take makes a big difference on your long-term health.
Walking makes you leaner, stronger, and younger, and it’s a form of exercise that will never go out of style. That’s why walking is a super movement for staying in shape, at every point in life’s journey.